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Candid Conversation

The past few weeks have been pretty good. I spent part of it at the annual ServiceNow user conference — Knowledge13 in Las Vegas. It was a great conference and I’m so thankful to my esteemed colleague Michael Dortch for the opportunity to attend as a speaker and participate in his panel discussion on “ITSM in 2015 — and beyond!“. I had such a great time and have lots of stories to share, look for that in another blog!

Having had the opportunity to talk about my perspectives on the ITIL Joint Venture here and here and knowing that I was going to be at the conference, Linda King of G2G3 asked me if I was interested in having a conversation with a representative of the JV while at the conference.

Within seconds of receiving this invite via Twitter direct message, I launched back with an enthusiastic: “YES!!!” Maybe I should have been a little more restrained with my response, but do remember that I am an American!

Given this, she set up a time to have a conversation with Chris Barrett (of Capita) who is one of the newly appointed directors for the Cabinet Office / Capita Joint Venture. I purposely arrived early on Tuesday so that I could ensure that I’d be on time for our meeting. I’m thinking that you’d like to know a bit about what happened?! OK, let’s do a run down, shall we?

My Objectives

Objective #1 – Candid Conversation

First off, my approach was pretty simple — I wanted to have a real, candid conversation. I was hoping that it would be fully conversational, “no holds barred, ” and genuine. I knew there was going to be at least one (“real”) reporter present, so I didn’t want it to be an “interview” like a reporter would do. Why?

Well, let’s start with the fact that I’m not a reporter, so that was enough for me. At the same time, I’ve got some good analytical and story-telling skills, which is why I do my blog. That said, I am also not afraid of asking tough questions and don’t back away from things that are controversial. Someone has to ask those questions, it might as well be me! The thing that represented the most value to me is getting down to some “real talk,” not posturing or positioning.

I  should also note that I didn’t tape record the conversation to get quotes or write a lot of notes. In a certain sense, I felt like I didn’t need to do that. I knew that the ITSM Weekly podcast team was going to get audio and that Ros was going to cover the interview. As such, I was more concerned about just mixing it up a bit. I wanted to get a sense of who the rep was and what their take on things was.

Objective #2 – Do Your Homework

If you’re going to go into something that you consider to be an important conversation, you need to do your homework! Period.

For me, this homework started as soon as we confirmed the date/time for the conversation. I did the obligatory search of websites, but that only gets you so far.

As the JV had just released the e-bulletin, I decided that I’d do my prep, based on that. My first read of the document encouraged me, so I thought it’d be good to give a detailed read… and so I did. You can see (from the picture above) that I highlighted and wrote in the margins, I created a list of questions and then I created a list of common “issues/complaints” that I have had with (the management of) ITIL over the years.

On Meeting Chris Barrett

First Impressions

I don’t know about you, but I consider myself to be a reasonable judge of character and often come to a conclusion about that pretty quickly after meeting someone. When I met Chris, I was quite pleased. I got the sense of him as someone who was authentically excited and genuine. For me, this is a very potent combination.

The Flow of the Conversation

Before I go any farther, I have to say that this was the first time that I got to meet Stephen Mann in person and for me it was a real treat. I’d been looking forward to this for some time and to be able to have this conversation along with him made it even better. While Stephen and I have some shared views on this topic, we certainly don’t see things exactly the same way. In my mind, this only made our conversation with Chris better and more valuable.

I started off the conversation by offering why I was there and what I wanted to do. As I looked at my question list, I wasn’t all that excited about what I came up with, so I decided that it would be better to start of with my list of issues and see where that went. In the process of talking about the list, the conversation went from something rather dry and clinical to being fully engaged with the topic and having a pretty spirited discussion on that. Certainly, when you get Stephen and I going, there’s no lack of passion or enthusiasm for what we’re talking about.

We went on for about 1.5 hours. The area where we sat was the outdoor “smoking lounge” attached to the conference center. There were lots of people doing what they were doing, it was hot and a tad uncomfortable, but we were so into it, we just kept going. Every time I thought it would stop, we found another conversational thread to pull and started down that path. Finally, we were getting very close to the time when Chris and Linda needed to move on to their next meeting. That’s when Chris asked me a very important question: “What can we do to ensure that we don’t screw this up?” That question alone gave me the confidence that they were approaching this with the necessary degree of caution and commitment to the various stakeholder communities.

Stephen and I offered our three key points. My key points revolved around:

  • Offer a means to engage the community and take action on what they say. It doesn’t matter whether or not you take a specific stakeholders inputs and use it (show it as part of a future release of ‘x’), but at least give the person that submitted it credit for doing that and closing the loop with them. Let the person know. Don’t let that feedback “go into a black hole.”
  • Transparency is key. No more closed sessions and back rooms. Something that is more driven by consensus is a worthwhile goal, while realizing that too much of that introduces a whole new bag of issues and risks. I thought that the idea of a select advisory board (able to make non-binding recommendations) to help guide the evolution of the IP would be a good first step.
  • Manage expectations. No one likes surprises, so don’t just share facts, work to set stakeholder expectations. This way, you’re giving the stakeholder what they need to decide whether or not they’ll support you in your newly charted direction, as you move that forward.

I figure that if these were the only things that the JV got right, we’d be way ahead of where things are today. There are a lot of mechanics that go along with these recommendations, but I am clear that the intent was communicated and I made sure that I left the door open to re-engage on these points, if it was requested or would be helpful.

Takeaways / Conclusions

Here’s my shortlist:

  1. The net of the conversation is that it completely validated my previous  thoughts on giving the JV folks time to get their business up and running.
  2. As a long time ITIL enthusiast and stakeholder, I am satisfied with their decision to appoint Chris as a Director. I think that he has the right sensibility for the work to be done and comes to it from the outside, making it less likely that he’d be bringing historical biases in the door with him.
  3. The JV will bring resources to ensure stability, professional-level product management thinking to keep the framework evolving and openness/transparency to the work ahead to help avoid repeating past mistakes.
  4. In my mind, these trump any/all concerns about “profit motive,” because they’ve been largely missing since the early days and such a motive can help keep the JV focused on fulfilling its promises to the stakeholder community. Certainly, if they were to fail to do so, the public backlash would likely be swift and the consequences severe.

In closing, I’ll offer my thanks to Linda King (G2G3) for extending the invitation to have this conversation. I am very thankful that she thought highly enough of my work to invite me.

That’s my “report.” If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to chime in and ask. I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted In:Service Management
Tags Used:Capita, Consensus, Expectation Management, Expectations, Futures, G2G3, Interview, ITIL, ITSM, Joint Venture, USMBOK
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